I wrote How to be a Lion because I wanted to say to children, that there are many ways that you can be you. Don't be afraid to show it. If you're quiet, gentle, or a dreamer – they're all valid. I wanted to show how you might resist the pressure to conform – to stand up for who it is you want to be. To think for yourself – not to accept someone else's point of view just because that makes it easier to fit in.
We'll only ever be truly happy if we can confidently be who it is we actually are. That goes for adults as much as for children.
The pressure to conform can start early. Before a child begins nursery or primary school they're safe in their own world. Free to be whoever it is they are. Free to show a sensitive side, to be gentle and to dream. In the rough and tumble of a social setting, at nursery or primary school, showing these sides can make them feel vulnerable. It's vital to socialise, but peer pressure frequently goes further and suggests that to fit in you need to conform to another way of being, that it's not cool to be a certain way or like certain things.
This is the same for boys and girls, but I noticed growing up, how boys have to demonstrate a narrow idea of masculinity to fit in. It can be difficult to show gentler or more sensitive sides of yourself. Those with the loudest voices tend to dominate - pressuring others to follow. If we want to teach children to become 'whole' adults, we need to celebrate all sides and allow them to be a functioning part of us.
Quiet voices easily get lost among louder ones, but we shouldn't let that happen. Often the quieter voices are the thinking voices. Creative thought requires time to think and 'daydreaming' is a part of that. Gazing out of the window lost in thought is frowned upon at school – but I know very few writers who don't spend some time doing exactly that as they're turning ideas over. We should be empowering children with quieter voices – they have a lot to say.
In How to be a Lion we meet Leonard, a lion who thinks for himself. Big and strong, but with a gentle side; a poet and a dreamer. One day, he meets Marianne, who helps him out with a poem he's stuck on. They have much in common and become the best of friends.
The problem is, Marianne is a duck.
The fierce lions say; lions should chomp ducks! Lions aren't supposed to be gentle and they definitely shouldn't be writing poems!
Lions are supposed to be fierce. Leonard is doing it all wrong!
What will Leonard and Marianne do? Must Leonard change his ways to fit in?
Should he gobble up Marianne?!
The idea for How to be a Lion came at the time of the 2016 US election campaign. One belligerent, bullying voice was getting all the attention. He's now the figurehead of the 'free' world, setting a disastrous example. I can't help thinking that this voice will inevitably filter down to children and that they, inevitably, will learn from it, and possibly in time, learn to become like it.
I hope I've written a book that counters that voice, and the intolerance behind it, and instead demonstrates the importance of kindness and empathy. I think it's time we celebrate the power of quieter more thoughtful voices (anyone who's read Susan Cain's Quiet may recognise this call).
I also wanted to address ‘toxic’ masculinity. If you remember, some truly awful quotes relating to women came from Trump. We need to demonstrate a different idea of masculinity. 'How to be a Lion' tries to show that being gentle, compassionate, and exhibiting a sensitive side are not weaknesses... they’re part of being a well-rounded, thinking human being.
Most importantly, How to be a Lion is a book about thinking for yourself and having the courage to stand up for who you are: because, if we go through life not being ourselves, we'll never be truly happy.
If all this sounds pretty didactic, I hope the book isn't. I wrote it to be enjoyed. The story of what can happen when a lion meets a duck. I hope it's funny, and touching, and I hope you'll love meeting Leonard and Marianne.